How to run Windows 8.1 for free for 90 days

Microsoft offers a free 90-day evaluation version of Windows 8.1 Enterprise edition just as it did with Windows 8.

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

On the fence about Windows 8.1? You can take the new OS for a free 90-day spin before deciding whether you want a permanent relationship.

For Windows 8 users, the decision to upgrade to 8.1 is virtually a no brainer. The new version offers a host of benefits and improvements over its predecessor. And it's free. So, there's little reason not to upgrade. Windows 8 users can easily download and install the Windows 8.1 update through the Windows store .

But those of you running previous versions of Windows would have to shell out $120 for Windows 8.1 or $200 for Windows 8.1 Pro . Instead, you can install the Enterprise evaluation edition first to see if 8.1 is worth your hard-earned money. Here's how:

Choose a PC on which you wish to install the Windows 8.1 evaluation software. You can use a spare PC, create a dual-boot setup on your existing PC , or configure a virtual machine . Whichever location you choose, make sure you have at least 30GB worth of free space for the OS and whatever apps you want to install.

After you've chosen a home for Windows 8.1, go to Microsoft's TechNet Evaluation Center Web site to download the necessary ISO file. At the drop-down window to select a version, pick either the 32-bit or 64-bit edition and then click the button to Get Started Now.

To download the file, you'll need to set up a Microsoft account if you don't already have one. You'll also need to fill out a profile with some basic information. Microsoft then prompts you to install an Akamai NetSession Interface utility in order to download the ISO file. After you've installed the Akamai utility, click on the green Downloading files button to download the ISO. The ISO file is around 3.7GB, so the download will take awhile.

After the ISO file has been downloaded, burn it onto a DVD using the Windows Disc Image Burner tool in Windows 7 or a utility such as ISO Recorder. After you've done this, insert the DVD into the PC on which you wish to install Windows 8.1. Make sure to select the option to boot from DVD as your PC revs up.

After bootup, you'll see the initial Windows 8.1 setup screen. Confirm the settings and click Next. At the second setup screen, click Install now. At the License terms screen, click on the check box for I accept the license terms and then click Next. At the screen asking which type of installation you want, select the second option for Custom: Install Windows only (advanced). At the screen asking where you want to install Windows, select the partition you wish to use to store the OS. Click Next. The installation kicks off.

Following the installation, you're deposited at the Personalization screen where you choose a background style, PC name, and other settings for Windows. After the Personalization process, you finally arrive at the familiar Start screen.

And that's it. You now have 90 days to live with your new OS.

The Windows 8.1 Enterprise evaluation edition is a full working version. It has all of the features of Windows 8.1 Pro and then some. The Enterprise edition is aimed at IT administrators, developers, and other tech professionals. But anyone can run it before deciding if Windows 8.1 is worth a permanent commitment.

 

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